Bois D'Arc Conservation Area, (pronounced Bo-dark) 10 miles west of Springfield, is named after the small town of Bois D'Arc and for the Osage orange trees that dominate the mostly open landscape. The Osage Indians used the sturdy limbs of these trees to make their bows; thus the French words bois d' arc, meaning "arc of wood." Other common local names for these trees are hedge apple, Bois D' Arc tree, bowwood and hedge. Some of the trees on the conservation area are more than 100 years old.
Originally, the Conservation Department bought Bois D'Arc Conservation Area to conduct bobwhite quail research. Bois D'Arc still provides optimum quail habitat, which also benefits many other wildlife species, especially cottontail rabbits. The area is not suited for pond construction, but there are a few small, shallow, fishless ponds. These serve as breeding areas for aquatic, salamanders and other wetland species, such as woodcock. These secluded ponds also attract waterfowl. A small deer herd, as well as some flocks of wild turkeys, also live on the area.
Bois D'Arc Conservation Area is surrounded by vast acres of fescue that support grazing beef herds, so quail are unable to "recruit" or exchange birds from surrounding farms. The quail that hatch on the area are just about all there is for the quail hunter during the November hunt.
Because the area easily could be "hunted out," quail, rabbit and dove hunters can hunt only until 1 p.m. daily. In addition, quail and dove hunters must check in and check out. Quail seasons usually are restricted to 30 or 45 days, depending upon quail survey information.
The long rabbit season is popular and includes special opportunities for disabled hunters. We have set aside almost 400 acres for use by rabbit hunters who have some type of physical limitation that prevents them from walking into the field. A permit allows these hunters access to this designated area with their vehicles. Vehicles still are restricted to access roads, but hunters seem to appreciate this privilege.
As with all conservation areas throughout the state, our management plan begins with the soil. A conservation plan for Bois D'Arc came from recommendations made by the local district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS. Local farmers share-crop suitable acres on the area under contracts that also benefit the local economy.
Contour strip-cropping practices reduce soil erosion and provide the habitat diversity attractive to quail, rabbits, marsh hawks, doves and many songbirds. Permittee farmers pay for their use of the land by leaving a designated portion of the grain crop standing in the field at harvest time. The standing grain provides both cover and emergency food for wildlife during the winter months.
There is an archery range just over a mile north of the Andy Dalton Shooting Range and Training Center, at the junction of county roads 76 and 61. Archers have free access to two 1/2-mile trails that pass by 24 targets. There is also an elevated platform from which they can hone their shooting skills. Organized archery clubs use this range for their regular monthly meetings. During early summer, the Flatrock Traditional Archery Club also hosts a national event to promote the use of traditional archery skills. Members pride themselves on using only handmade bows and arrows, a fitting tradition, since the area was named for the "wood of the bow."
The only large pond on the area is not open to the general public for fishing, but over 12,000 anglers use it each summer through the Conservation Department's Urban Fishing Program. We stock channel catfish, bluegill and largemouth bass for this popular program.
A partially wooded area on the east side has been criss-crossed with primitive hiking trails. The Osage Orange Hiking Trail consists of nearly 5 miles of trails, allowing hikers and walkers to see a variety of wildlife habitats, from open glade to rather dense woods. The trails connect parking lots located on three sides of the square-mile tract to allow easy access. Benches for resting and wooden bridges have been added.
One part of the trail leading from Highway UU crosses a glade where the threatened Missouri bladderpod (Lesquerella filiformis) grows during early spring. This particular species of bladderpod is found only in four counties in southwest Missouri. Another loop of the trail takes the hiker by Watkins or Jones Cave. It is also known as "Speakeasy Cave," due to its rumored use as a site for a still during prohibition. This cave is accessible through a near vertical entrance.
The 1,500-foot-long cave is available to users only with a permit available at the Springfield Conservation Service Center. The permit requirement is designed to restrict the use of the cave to educational purposes. Area schools and beginning spelunkers find the cave easy to navigate.
A dove hunt for young hunters is a popular annual event sponsored by the Conservation Department. We set aside the opening weekend of dove season for pre-registered younger hunters and their sponsors, and reserve nearly 300 acres of prime dove hunting land for hunters between the ages of 11 and 16. Sponsors assist and support the beginning hunters but don't hunt themselves. You can gauge the success of a hunt by the smiles of the young hunters.
Great Outdoors Day coincides with National Hunting and Fishing Day and includes demonstration shooting and firearms exhibits at the range, primitive and modern camping equipment and methods, primitive and modern archery equipment and demonstrations, fishing equipment and methods, boating and various hunting dog demonstrations. A local veterans' organization usually has plenty of food available for lunch, so visitors can remain on the area and attend a variety of activities throughout the day.
Editor - Tom Cwynar
Assistant Editor - Charlotte Overby
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer